Living Madly: Small Things

photo courtesy of svklimkin

Living Madly: Small Things

By Emilie-Noelle Provost

Love and kindness are never wasted. It’s the sort of cliché you might find on a greeting card or in a self-help book. Most people I know tend to scoff at this type of sentimentality. It sounds sappy, too simplistic to have much substance, too open-ended to have any kind of real meaning.

I think one of the reasons we interpret sentiments like this in such a negative way is because we don’t always know how an act of kindness can affect someone’s life. Being stoic New Englanders, we tend to imagine that doing something kind for someone else might be viewed as pathetic or peculiar, even inappropriate. But what if it were possible to understand the impact that kind acts can have on people?

For much of the time I was in high school, I struggled academically. My family life was miserable, and so was I. More than once, I ran away from home.

My situation was made worse by the fact that I was smart. I was in honors-level classes. Why couldn’t I just pull it together, my parents and teachers wanted to know? How was I going to get into college? Why was I so bent on destroying my life?

In hindsight, it’s obvious that I was suffering from depression. But in the late 1980s this wasn’t something parents, teachers, or doctors tended to recognize or diagnose.

By my senior year, I had managed to “pull it together.” I’d completed two years of academic work in a single year so I could graduate with my class. I had applied to a few colleges and by some miracle was accepted to all of them. But I had no idea what these schools were like. What if I chose the wrong one? The risk involved felt overwhelming.

I had pretty much decided to put off going to college when a guy I’d met through a mutual friend offered to take me to Framingham State University (then Framingham State College), one of the schools to which I had been accepted. This guy, whose name was Jay, was a student there and he loved it. He was willing to bet that I’d love it, too.

Jay picked me up at my house early one morning during my February school vacation week. On the drive to Framingham, he told me about his friends, his professors, his classes. He gave me a tour of the campus and introduced me to some of the people he knew. I sat in on a couple of his classes and met his professors. We ate lunch in the cafeteria, where I got to talk to even more cool and interesting people.

When I got home at the end of the day, I wrote a check for $500—all the money I had—and sent it to Framingham State along with my enrolment paperwork. In all the years since, it remains one of the best decisions I ever made.

I met my husband, Rob, at the beginning of my junior year at FSC. On our next wedding anniversary in April, we will have been married for 28 years. At age 25, our daughter, Madelaine, is an art teacher in the Lowell public school system. I’ve enjoyed a rewarding career as a writer and editor. I’m the author of two books, soon to be three. And there are still a lot of other things I hope to do.

I’m still in touch with Jay. We haven’t seen one another in years, but we sometimes chat on Facebook. He’s one of those friends I could see tomorrow, though, and it would be as if no time had passed. A couple of years ago, I wrote to Jay to let him know that that day in February 1989, when he went out of his way to take me to school with him, had changed my life. His kindness helped me become the person I was meant to be. It made the life I have now possible.

In his reply to my note, Jay was pretty modest about his role in the whole thing, but he wrote, “This is why it’s important for us all to take care of each other.”

When you make an effort to be kind to someone you might make their day brighter. But it’s also conceivable that some small thing you do or say might change their life for the better. Your thoughtfulness could convince someone to do something kind for another person who might really need it. You’ll probably never know what impact your actions have, but kindness is like magic. All on its own, it has the power to transform.

Lent started yesterday. If you observe it, instead of giving something up you might consider giving something of yourself. But you don’t need to be a religious person to make someone’s life, or the world, a little better. Kindness is like a ripple in the water. You never know how far one caring act will go.


Emilie-Noelle Provost (she/her) is the author of The River Is Everywhere, a National Indie Excellence Award and American Fiction Award finalist, and The Blue Bottlea middle-grade adventure with sea monsters. Visit her at

One Response to Living Madly: Small Things

  1. Suzanne Beebe says:

    This is beautifully written and a cause for reflection at a time when there’s so much nastiness and ill-will being tossed around by people who don’t even know the people they’re directing it to. I think most of us have memories of kindnesses, small or large, that kept us going or raised us up when we needed it. Perhaps remembering can moderate the harshness of the environment around us just a little bit (or even a lot) if we give it the time and attention it requires…

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